Tom’s Garden

Growing by the Bay

Author: xensen (Page 18 of 22)

Free Days at San Francisco Bay Area museums

Most museums in the Bay Area waive the regular attendance fee one day a month. Following is a list of these free days. Museums may changes which day is free, so it’s worth calling or checking their websites (links provided below). Please let me know of errors or omissions in this list.

First Monday
Contemporary Jewish Museum (now closed through spring 2008)

First Tuesday
Asian Art Museum
Cartoon Art Museum (“pay what you wish”)
De Young Museum
Legion of Honor


First Wednesday
California Academy of Sciences

First Thursday
Berkeley Art Museum (BAM/PFA)
SF Museum of Craft and Design

Second Sunday
Oakland Museum

Museum of the African Diaspora

Rummy at Stanford

nob hill, 1902, with leland stanford and mark hopkins mansions

Most people think of the Bay Area as a hotbed of liberalism. Which it is. But the region was also host to a passel of robber barons. Several of these immensely wealthy industrialists settled on a hill overlooking downtown San Francisco — “the symbolic nexus of all old California money and power,” as Joan Didion called it — which consequently became known as Nob Hill.

One of these was Leland Stanford, president of the Central Pacific Railroad and founder of the university that bears his name (actually, the name of his son, Leland Stanford, Jr., who died of typhoid in Florence, Italy, as a teenager). At the time Stanford built his Nob Hill mansion it was the largest private residence in the state. In the image above, from 1902, it is the large building at the center top; the Mark Hopkins mansion is the turreted building to its left.

During the early 1860s Stanford served as governor of California. Ironically, for one who made his money from the railroads, in his inaugural speach he promised to protect the state from “the dregs of Asia.”

No one would deny that Stanford is an excellent school. Still, the legacy of the robber barons has not completely disappeared. Now the same school that gave us Condoleezza Rice is welcoming Donald Rumsfeld as a visiting fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution.

According to the institution’s director, John Raisian, Rumsefeld will participate in a task force devoted to world peace.

UPDATE, 26 Sept. 07: Jon Carroll calls for Rumsfeld to be shunned.

Golden Gate Bridge in the fog

Cold ocean fog gets sucked through the Golden Gate, the narrow opening to the bay. The bridge that connects San Francisco at the south with Marin County at the north, though the second longest suspension bridge in the country, is only about 1.7 miles long, including the portions that extend over land. The narrowness of the Golden Gate prevented the immense bay (not nearly so large today as it used to be) from being discovered by early European explorers. When the fog would lift, Angel Island would create the illusion of a solid landmass.

The concentrated fog often takes weird winding routes through the city, contributing to its pronounced microclimates. One neighborhood can be warm and sunny while a neighboring one is suffused with a penetrating chill. This video was shot from a helicopter over the bridge.

Death of the Hippie

death of the hippie (san francisco, 1967)A couple of days ago I was talking about the so-called Summer of Love as a media concoction. To repeat, the flowers were already beginning to wilt by that celebrated summer. To indicate how short-lived the movement really was, recall that by October residents of the Haight were commemorating “The Death of the Hippie” in a mock funeral. PBS’s American Experience has a brief video clip of the event (click the image to visit the site).

Like all successful media constructions, the Summer of Love had a strong commercial aspect. B in the D, bellbottom sentiments were used to peddle Coca Cola. Today, the De Young Museum is pretending that the cliched commercial graphic designs of “psychedelic” artist Peter Max are fine art.

And the beat goes on.

Reuters: Wistful over lost dreams


City of riches

greedEarly Chinese immigrants to San Francisco referred to northern California as “Gold Mountain.” The name, an echo of the 49ers gold rush, expressed the promise of a land of riches. Many of those immigrants were doomed to disappointment, but the land of riches, has, apparently, come to pass. According to CNN Money, San Francisco is the third richest community in the nation, with a median income of $65,497. San Jose is second, with a median income of 73,804. (And, in case you’re wondering, Plano, Texas, is first at $77,038.)

It’s hard to be sure what this means. A median is the mid-point where half of the sample falls below, and half of the sample is greater. To pull the median up and rank among the top in the country for median income you would need a lot of people at the high end. But a high median can disguise the fact that there remain many people at the low end.

According to an article in the Chronicle, Hunters View, a 265-unit housing complex in Hunters Point, received one of the worst public housing scores from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development of any housing in the nation. The inspection “found shattered glass on the ground, missing sewer and drain covers, roaches in apartments, malfunctioning appliances, and mold and mildew. Perhaps most remarkably, the inspection found 64 percent of the units had missing or inoperable smoke detectors. Hunters View was the site of the 1997 fire that killed a grandmother and five children – due, a judge ruled, to the San Francisco Housing Authority not having installed a smoke detector.”

The cost of living is high in San Francisco. It’s a difficult place for people with low incomes. I believe the city has lost some vitality because it is so difficult for adventurous young people to survive here. Today, Portland or Seattle seem in many respects more like the San Francisco of the mid twentieth century than our present San Francisco does.

Image: Zasu Pitts in Erich von Stoheim’s Greed (1924), based on the novel, set in San Francisco, by Frank Norris.

Summer of Love

summer of love, 2007

San Francisco celebrated the fortieth anniversary of the Summer of Drugs Love in Golden Gate Park this weekend, and it sounds like it was a big hit. The weather certainly cooperated.

Something to know about the Summer of Love is that it was largely a media creation. By the summer of 1967 the peace, love, and pot movement had peaked and was about to decline. Probably its apogee was around January of that year, with the Human Be-in in Golden Gate Park. Within a year the Haight would look like a war zone, with abandoned and boarded-up business, the streets grim and taken over by hustlers, punks, and dealers of hard drugs.

National papers and magazines picked up on the counter-culture movement after the Be-in, and ran breathless articles about the Diggers and the “hippie” movement in San Francisco. That publicity fueled an immigration of teeny boppers from all over the country to the Haight. The release of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper album early that June kicked things into overdrive, as everyone in the country tuned into that album — it was not uncommon to hear the lingering chords of “A Day in the Life” reverberating from several different directions — reinforcing that sense that people were coming together in some sudden convergence of positive energy. And, in a way, they were. But it was short-lived. The Summer of Love was a swan song, really.

The image above, by Brant Ward, is from the Chronicle’s coverage of the weekend’s festivities.

Speaking of Sgt. Pepper, here’s the Shatner interpretation:

BART plans


BART leadership has announced a change of strategy that will see it abandoning the expansions of recent decades in favor of running more trains more closely together and adding more stops on existing lines. There is talk of adding an earlier train to the airport (though just a train or two scarcely sounds enough to make much of a difference).

Early trains to the airport are a good idea, since BART strangely went to the trouble of expanding there and then failed to provide the trains that would enable travelers to catch the peak early morning flights. But if BART really wants travelers to use it to connect with flights, it needs to add luggage ranks to the trains. And it needs to provide a shuttle to the Oakland airport that is not sheer misery, like the current packed cattle cars.

While it’s true that expansion has been a bit precipitous, BART should nonetheless expand along the I80 corridor, which is an idea that it dropped twenty-five years ago and never picked up again. Highway 80 is consistently ranked as the worst or second-worst commute in the nation. Yet BART has preferred to expand to places like Pleasanton and Pittsburg, rather than do something to help alleviate the worst traffic problem in the entire country.

image of BART station from SF Travel

Toll Drive

Plans are in the works to fix the “antiquated and unsafe viaduct” known as Doyle Drive. Doyle Drive is the scary, narrow strip of road that leads from the Marina through the Presidio to Golden Gate Bridge. It serves as a handy drag racing roadway for top-heavy extrawide trucks barreling hellbent for Marin. As part of the plan, control of the drive would be turned over from Caltrans to San Francisco. San Francisco would like to make it a toll road with a sliding fee based on congestion, “using sophisticated overhead sensors.”

Clearly this area has a serious traffic problem. What a great location for building a huge museum.

San Francisco cable car lines, 1893

Some people don’t realize that cable cars were at one time a working transit system in San Francisco and not just an amusement ride for tourists. In fact, when I first came to the city I used a cable car for one leg of my commute. The cars cost the same as buses then.

Click on the detail below to see a full map of San Francisco cable car lines in 1893. The original could be better quality. I played with levels and curves to make this detail a bit more legible.

cable car lines in san francisco, 1893

SF Trek

trekking in san francisco

via Laughing Squid

My Bad

manute bolYou hear it all
the time now.
But, believe it
or not, there
was a time when
people said “my
fault” instead
of “my bad.”
Where did the
new phrase begin?

Maybe Oaktown.
I first heard the
phrase spoken by
GW Warriors center
Manute Bol. And
it just sounded
so like Manute,
it was perfect.

Well, it says here
that Manute may
indeed have coined
the phrase (or
maybe not).

Frisco lingo!

Lily and snake

water lily and snake at University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley

Here’s another in my series of photos of water lilies. This is from the University of California Botanical Garden at Berkeley. With this one you get a bonus: a water snake on one of the pads.

Lily 1 (Getty Villa)
Lily 2 (San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers) (Illustrator artwork)
More to come …

Another record for San Francisco

According to, San Francisco is a world leader in expensive hotel parking. The Westin Saint Francis (at Union Sqare) is a notable example, charging $63 a day (not counting tips to the valet).

Bay Nature

bay nature

Bay Nature magazine, to the surprise of many, has managed to stay afloat for several years now. They’ve even started broadcasting on public television stations. It shows how much the Bay Area values its natural setting (relevant to this recent issue and this recent issue, for example).

I do think their website would be better served if it had some content on its home page — a few paragraphs from a feature article, say — rather than just a bunch of links, arranged seemingly randomly.

If you’re going to San Francisco, it’s still okay to wear flowers in your hair …

… but be sure to arrive with a job, it says here.

Encyclopedia of San Francisco

julia morgan entry at the encyclopedia of san francisco

The San Francisco Museum and Historical Society in putting together an encyclopedia of the city. Right now there isn’t much up, but if they follow through with this ambitious project it should end up being a helpful resource.

It’s too bad there’s no feed so that one could be alerted of new entries. Right now the only way to find new items, as far as I can see, would be to scroll through the alphabet — hardly a solution that will encourage return visits.

Fisher Contemporary Art Museum of the Presidio

don fisher, gap founderGap founder Donald Fisher’s announced intention to build a new museum in the Presidio has been widely reported. Namastenancy has posted a good summary. Apparently Mr. Fisher has a fine collection of modern and contemporary art, although it is difficult to tell at this time “whether the Fisher collection has institutional quality, like the Frick, the Barnes, the Hirshhorn, the Phillips, the Mellon (the National Gallery),” as Howard Junker asks, “or whether it will be merely a beau geste like the The Hess Collection (in Napa) or a dreadful provinciality like the di Rosa Preserve (also in Napa).”

But let’s say the collection is world class. There are still some things about this story that I find a little disturbing. First, Mr. Fisher negotiated with both SFMOMA ad the Fine Arts Museums to donate his collection to one of San Francisco’s existing museums that feature modern art. Negotiations in both instances proved fruitless. Maybe the problem was just finding an adequate space for the collection. But it doesn’t sound like that was the biggest stumbling block. Instead, it sounds like Mr. Fisher wanted to dictate curatorial content: what is displayed, when, and how. Money speaks in this town, but should it curate our art in this blatant a manner?

Second, the plans call for a 100,000 square foot museum, with more gallery space than SFMOMA. That sounds great, but the Presidio is a city treasure, and I fear this is another step in its destruction. Isn’t this too large a museum for the location that is proposed, especially considering the massive parking structure that will no doubt come with it?

But there is no effective review process for what is being done to the Presidio. (When the army pulled out, the Presidio was supposed to have become a national park. Instead, it is being given over to enterprises like George Lucas’s private business campus.) The only approval required is that of the seven-member Presidio Trust Board. Guess who was a founding member of the Presidio Trust Board?

Don Fisher (pdf link).

The image of Don Fisher is taken from an interesting article by Daniela Kirshenbaum that appeared on Fog City Journal.

Testing the limits

alameda manzanita

Bravo to Contra Costa supervisors who unanimously voted down an attempt to expand the East Bay urban limit line — a line overwhelmingly approved by area voters less than a year ago.

The proposal would have created a 75-home development in El Sobrante. El Sobrante (home to an endangered species of manzanita) is already suffering from severe traffic congestion and a scandalous shortage of services. The last thing it needs is more housing, the purpose of which would simply be to line some developer’s pocket. I wonder why such a propect has traditionally appealed to City of Richmond politicians. That is just so baffling. What could the explanation possibly be?

Ominously, according to the Contra Costa Times, “Architect Paul Wang said he will continue to meet with El Sobrante residents in an attempt to fix any flaws they see with the Golden Oaks proposal.” Wait, I see a flaw! This guy enjoys a sweet view from his bucolic home office in the Berkeley Hills. Meanwhile, on the other side of that hill — just far enough away that it doesn’t pollute his tranquil existence — construction crews would be cutting down “golden oaks” and putting up houses where they’re not wanted
and don’t belong.

Hey, City of Richmond and Contra Costa County (El Sobrante spans the two jurisdictions), did you ever think of creating a downtown park or two for this community that is home to many young families? And what about that pedestrian mall along San Pablo Dam Road that we’re not hearing much about anymore?

Shown: Endangered alameda manzanita (and friends). 

Transbay Terminal designs

I got over to City Hall yesterday to see the models and visualizations of the new Transbay Terminal (on view for that one day only). The general outlines of this have been reported elsewhere, although we still seem to be waiting for a full and careful consideration of the plans. The plans were commissioned by the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, a regional group established with an eye on creating a new transit center to rival NYC’s Grand Central Station (San Francisco has had a bad case of Apple-envy for as long as I can remember). The three plans under consideration all feature an extremely high tower — about the height of the Empire State Building. That would make it the tallest building on the West Coast.

But there’s “no guarantee” any of the designs will be built. San Francisco has traditionally opposed very tall buildings. Still, almost everyone agrees the current Transbay Terminal is squalid and depressing, and the new mostly yuppy population of the city seems more sympathetic to the concept of big buildings as validation of civic esteem than used to be the case. In other words, well, we’ll see.

I hope to find some time to comment on these a bit more later on. For now, some photos:

1. Skidmore Owings Merrill (whose mark is already all over the city) proposes a tower with a twist (don’t we already have one of those in the park?). The rooftop would be accessible to the public and enclosed in glass.

skidmore transbay design

2. Pelli Clarke Pelli (they’re Houston-based, which is a strike against them right there) propose a tower that sort of, well, peters out as it rises. It’s said to have “a sleek skin.”

pelli transbay design

3. Rogers Stirk Harbour ‘s design has been called “muscular.” It rises straight up and is capped with a giant wind turbine framed by metal structural extensions. Jim Leftwich has noted that it would be more complete with a giant eye.

rogers transbay terminal design

More to come …

Free San Francisco WiFi Spots

Someone has made a mashup that overlays free WiFi locations on a Google map of the city. I don’t know if it’s the most complete or accurate list, but the map function is convenient.

free san francisco wireless internet locations

Sixth Street

I wrote about 6th Street, sort of, when I mentioned Tu Lan. But I didn’t realize that the street was undergoing some kind of transformation. At least, that’s the claim of this metroblog, which asserts that along the street “fresh faced suburban bred 20-somethings careen intoxicatedly in and out of clubs looking to partake in some sort of overpriced quasi-glam nightlife activities whilst dozens of ever present ne’er do’ells, derelicts and addicts of various sorts bob about, some actually laying sprawled on the concrete.”

The junkies and lost souls had not escaped my notice, but I was unaware of the existence of hip clubs and nightspots on the street. Even though they have been popping up for a decade, apparently. More from the blog:

Long the city’s most dreaded skid row, for the past half decade or so a new breed of 6th St entrepreneurs has been trying to cash in on an area even the cops are afraid to hang out in. The city’s official half assed attempts at “beautification” are beyond laughable, seemingly the main noticeable aspect being banners proclaiming 6th Street is being beautified via “Urban Solutions”, a taxpayer funded non profit boondoggling arm of the ubiquitous and almost always asinine autocracy known as the SF Redevelopment Agency. Local activist Randy Shaw’s BeyondChron website noted in 2005 that one “need only look at how the Agency failed to eliminate blight on Sixth Street despite spending over $100 million.” According to the SF Chronicle $6 to $7 million was spent recently just on extending sidewalks an extra foot and a half , which i guess was meant to give crackheads & clubgoers, and wheelchair wielding whiners more room to congregate and sell stolen property?

Meanwhile the 6th street clubs & loft developers feed on a frenzied fatuousness & and ignore the detritus and decay around them …

“The Cancer of the San Francisco Chronicle”

Edward Champion blasts Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius as “a hack who defames journalism” and “a heartless and complacent yuppie writing very much in the thoughtless and vacant manner I used to find in that reactionary cad of a columnist, Ken Garcia.”

The city is getting worked up over one of its periodic and so far futile efforts to clean up Golden Gate Park, and Champion complains that Nevius is “entirely uninterested in coming to terms with the homeless in Golden Gate Park for his piece.”

There’s no question San Francisco’s homeless problem needs more serious attention than it has been getting. Will Champion’s heated rhetoric help? Wasn’t this supposed to be mayor Newsom’s signature issue?

UPDATE: Randy Shaw, in Beyond Chron, weighs in, 9/4/07:

While the traditional media’s role in promoting the Iraq War has become conventional wisdom, military invasions are not the only place where the press sells the public a false story. Consider homelessness. For two decades, the media has offered the public a “framing” of homelessness that focuses on problem individual behavior, rather than on the massive federal funding cuts that saw widespread visible homelessness remerge in 1982 after being nonexistent for over forty years. The San Francisco Chronicle still identifies the homeless problem as primarily caused by problem individuals such as campers in Golden Gate Park, and blames advocates, rather than the media and politicians, for the persistence of homelessness. C.W. Nevius’s August 28 Chronicle column perfectly captured how the media still “enables” the federal government’s abandonment of the unhoused, and shows why the Bush Administration – like its Reagan, Bush and Clinton predecessors – feels no pressure to act.

A scholar’s rock by Zhan Wang

Yesterday’s mystery image was a detail from a stainless steel “scholar’s rock” by the contemporary Chinese artist Zhan Wang. The example shown is displayed on the patio near the cafe at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park; the green colors were reflections of the trees and plants outside the museum.

zhan wang

zhan wang

zhan wang

Page 18 of 22

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